But following his retirement in 2000 after 16 seasons Barkley became much, much rounder. As in 100 pounds rounder, surging from his playing weight of 250 to 350.
That led to a stern lecture from his doctor this year, Barkley told Game On!
"The doctor said, 'Hey dude, if you don't lose some weight you're either going to get diabetes, have a stroke or drop dead. It's either A, B or C."
Barkley listened, and now is combining his goal of getting down to 280 with being a spokesman for Weight Watchers' "Lose Like a Man" campaign that kicks off on Dec. 25. Barkley says he managed to shed 14 pounds on his own, and that he has taken off another 27 -- down to 309 -- since going on the Weight Watchers program in late September.
Barkley, 48, says he has eaten more fruits and vegetables in the last two months than he did in the previous 35 years, and he's blunt about how he gained all that weight.
"There's no excuse for me being 100 pounds overweight. That's just me being lazy," Barkley says. "I only ate rice, corn and potatoes, which are clearly starches. People don't get fat eating fruits and vegetables."
Adds Barkley, "Anyone who gains 100 pounds, they're just a lazy a--."
He hopes that message will resonate in his home state of Alabama, which has steadily ranked as one of the nation's worst for obesity and diabetes.
"That's not something where you want to be holding up a big foam-rubber finger, and saying you're No. 1," Barkley says. "Clearly, being black, obesity and diabetes is an epidemic in our community."
Barkley says big weight gains are fairly typical for retired athletes.
"I'd say 80% of all athletes across the board have gained weight. There's two reasons for that. Your metabolism slows down, but you're also so beat up that you just don't want to work out. I had played basketball pretty much every day since I was 16. You're just tired of working out."